Sept. 9, 2011 – 10:17 p.m.

Burma Resolution Resurfaces as Procedural Puzzle Piece

The decision to slap sanctions on the military junta in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of those rare bipartisan issues on Capitol Hill.

When it came up last year, the Senate voted 99-1 to renew the import restrictions. So when this year’s resolution (S J Res 17) was held over from the summer, it prompted puzzlement from lawmakers and Hill watchers.

The sanctions, initially enacted July 28, 2003 (PL 108-61), are set to expire each year on that date unless Congress explicitly renews them.

The House passed its extension (H J Res 66) by voice vote July 20. But the Senate headed to recess without passing its version, cosponsored by 64 senators. Only last week did it pop up on the calendar for the coming week.

As it turns out, the delay had nothing to do with the sanctions themselves. Instead, it stemmed from a simple procedural conundrum facing the Democratic leadership.

The Constitution requires all bills that raise revenue of any kind to originate in the House. With a shortage of House-passed revenue legislation this session, the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decided to hold onto the Myanmar bill as a possible vehicle for a variety of extension measures.

Extensions of aviation programs (HR 658, S 223) and surface transportation programs (S 1525) contain language to extend authorities to collect taxes, triggering the origination clause of the Constitution.

The Senate is scheduled to resume consideration of the motion to proceed to the resolution Monday afternoon, but it was unclear which of the extensions the Myanmar resolution might be used to move this week.

The original language in the bill will likely be pushed aside, and Senate backers, led by Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will continue to seek a way to reauthorize the sanctions.

“The people of Burma deserve our continued support,” Feinstein said last week. “I will work with Sen. McConnell to renew the import ban as soon as possible to maintain pressure on the military regime to accept democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Officials also point out that there were no practical consequences of the lapsed sanctions. The restrictions have remained in place all along thanks to a corresponding executive order issued to implement the 2003 law.